For the next edition of Graphic Design: A New History, I propose that an area of graphic design be dedicated to the subculture music genre Vaporwave and also highlighting an artist named Ramona Andra Xavier who contributed to creating and popularizing the music and visual trend. The Oregon graphic artist and producer’s first album was called, “Floral Shoppe” (2011) and it heavily sampled on elevator muzak and smooth jazz reminiscent of music that would be heard in old shopping malls.
Floral Shoppe by Macintosh Plus, 2011 (one of Ramona Andra Xavier’s many aliases)
Much of the music genre and its producers continued to follow up from the previous genre of “chillwave”, using trance-like synth-based elevator music that was usually never taking itself too seriously. The graphics that would display this genre were nothing short of a parody of 80s pop music, often referred to as meme music. (Mikhaylova) Also often distributed on free websites such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp as its intention was for easy listening background music. The music and appeal were in the subculture were also in the attention to detail in the graphic art for album covers. Usually using 80s and 90s technology, glitch art and Japanese aesthetic for nostalgic appeal. The art heavily used renaissance-era statues and cyberpunk imagery, and the Japanese language as an appropriative aesthetic choice. To have statuesque figures next to computer graphics challenges the viewer to think: what is art? In this context but sets the tone of the genre as a whole.
Xavier and anonymous vaporwave contributors present these visual parodies of what they believe blissful nostalgia looked like within the early 2010s, using visual references that would become key signifiers of the genre such as Arizona ice tea, palm trees, old VHS tapes and fuji bottled water became a humourous staple of the genres playing on the aesthetic of consumerist culture. (esquire)
MTV International 2015 TV Rebranding
Later on, MTV would adopt the years old visual trend to look refreshing and new. Claiming its self-awareness to the generation’s movement toward self-examination, identity politics and apparent narcissism. (Nguyen) Perhaps many saw this as the death to vaporwave during 2013 as the visuals began to echo in Drake’s video “Hotline Bling” and other musically popular ventures, it began to become mainstream.
Ultimately, its purpose of engaging with listeners is to enjoy the music and art as a reaction against the irony and nihilism of postmodernism. (Jurgens) Vaporwave is innovative and unique as a subculture of trying to create sincere and joyful renditions of forgotten corporate videos and advertisements into soulful manipulations. This genre becomes relevant for a “failed consumer paradise” where we will often see economic and cultural decline cycle once again. (esquire)
Music critic Adam Harper described vaporwave artists’ work as a reaction to late capitalism thusly: “These musicians can be read as sarcastic anti-capitalists revealing the lies and slippages of modern techno-culture and its representations, or as its willing facilitators, shivering with delight upon each new wave of delicious sound.” (Pearson)
“How Vaporwave Was Created Then Destroyed by the Internet.” Esquire, 11 Oct. 2017, www.esquire.com/entertainment/music/a47793/what-happened-to-vaporwave/.
Evans, Sidney, et al. “I Am My MTV: MTV Gets Personal With The Viewer In Its Rebrand.” Brandingmag, Brandingmag | Narrating the Discussion, 8 May 2019, www.brandingmag.com/2015/06/26/i-am-my-mtv-mtv-gets-personal-with-the-viewer-in-its-rebrand/.
Jurgens, Genista. “Why Won’t Vaporwave Die?” Format, www.format.com/magazine/features/art/vaporwave.
Lyons, Patrick. “Vaporwave Pioneer Vektroid Can Do So Much More Than Music.” Willamette Week, www.wweek.com/music/2018/10/18/vaporwave-pioneer-vektroid-can-do-so-much-more-than-music/.
Pearson, Jordan. “How Tumblr and MTV Killed the Neon Anti-Corporate Aesthetic of Vaporwave.” Vice, 26 June 2015, www.vice.com/en_us/article/539v9a/tumblr-and-mtv-killed-vaporwave.
Scaruffi, Piero. A History of Chillwave and Vaporwave, www.scaruffi.com/history/vaporwav.html.